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OEM Report: Automotive

Personal spin

By Russ Olexa

January 2010- After he helped expand Peterson's publications, George Barris began making cars for various stars of the silver screen.

"The movie industry came to us because we were hot-rodders, building custom cars and racing on the streets," he says. "It was very exciting for the moviemakers, and you could see from all the movies everybody was just going ballistic for hot rods. I did 'High School Confidential!' with John Barrymore Jr., and we did 'Rebel Without a Cause' with James Dean. The 1950s had us pioneering in the movie industry. In the 1960s, custom cars became even stronger because of television."

The first unique car Barris did was for "The Beverly Hillbillies." Cars for "The Munsters," "Batman," "The Monkees," "The Green Hornet," "Knight Rider" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" followed.

At this time, Barris' wife, Shirley, prompted him to move to Hollywood to be closer to the TV and movie industry, as well as the celebrities for whom they were building custom cars. Barris also realized that to be more successful, he needed to diversify. He customized speed boats, motor homes, snowmobiles, toys and cars, and he published books and magazines.

"In the 1960s, we pioneered another area: doing custom car work for General Motors and Ford," says Barris. "In fact, Lee Iacocca had the Ford Custom Car Caravan, which I toured with. So I worked for Ford doing some of their concept cars, which was heaven sent. Then I also worked with GM doing concept cars. The Detroit carmakers wanted us because we could produce a custom or concept car quickly--while the car companies would take one to four years to do something, it would only take us one to four weeks, which made it very interesting."

Barris' wife, who was an interior decorator, did the interiors for the cars of Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Later Barris' daughter, Joji, and son, Brett, joined the business.

Pioneering paint
Barris helped pioneer candy apple red paint, pearl paints and metal-flake paint. These lent aesthetic appeal to custom cars and paved the way for unique colors.

"In 1948, a customer had a white car and wanted it red, but he didn't want to spend much money," says Barris. "So I got a red toner because red is a translucent [and] sprayed it over the white, and it was really bright but very cloudy. I thought that was a great idea, so I sprayed a fender with silver and painted the red over it and thought it was a little dark and cloudy. I went to a powder paint company for some gold powder and sprayed it. I finally got a translucent red that looked like a candy apple, so I named it candy apple red paint."

Pearl paints came along the same way, according to Barris.

"In the 1950s, I was doing my Golden Sahara car, and I wanted it to have a gold paint job with a pearl effect. Shirley said, 'Fish are very pearllike-looking.' So we went down to the fish market and had a guy turn sardines over on their back until I found the right scale of gold from the fish. We scraped the scales off the tummy, put them in a jar, crushed them and added them to a clear paint. I put flat white under as a base coat and sprayed the clear with the scales over it. Of course, the only problem was the smell of the dead fish. That's how I ended up getting pearl paint."

Barris has a similar story about the creation of metal-flake paint.

"The first metal flake I did was Bobby Darrin's Dream Car," he says. "I wanted to get a flake with a sparkle, and there wasn't any at that time. Shirley and I went down to the jewelry market and got real diamonds and had them crushed. We base painted the car with a tangerine color and painted the diamond dust in a clear over it. Again, I got reflections that were unbelievable."

Through the years, Barris produced and directed his own movies, including "The Van," "Disco Fever" and "The Junkman." He also continues to do creative customizations for customers and the movie industry.

But now he has turned his talents to the cars of the 21st century, such as customizing hybrids. Fans can still see many of his cars at shows, along with a soon-to-be-published book on the cars he built for the stars. FFJ

Sources

  • Barris Kustom Industries
    North Hollywood, Calif.
    phone: 818/984-1314
    fax: 818/763-2628
    www.barris.com

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